Signs of infighting as Trump weighs key posts
PRESIDENT-ELECT Donald Trump pressed ahead with efforts to build his cabinet with former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani tipped for secretary of state, but reports said vicious infighting was hobbling the crucial process.
The Republican billionaire drew a barrage of criticism over his pick of chief strategist: the anti-establishment firebrand Steve Bannon, onetime head of the provocative Breitbart website seen by critics as a darling of white supremacists.
Top ally Mr Giuliani, hawkish former UN ambassador John Bolton, retired general Michael Flynn and Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions were all reported to be on the shortlist for a top administration job.
But the high-stakes process of filling more than a dozen cabinet posts has been tumultuous by many accounts. One source cited by CNN described the intense lobbying as a “knife fight”.
Vice president-elect and transition leader Mike Pence spent much of the day at Trump Tower, which has been a hive of activity since the election, but his only comment to media as he left was “Great day”.
Among other sightings at the Manhattan high-rise was Ted Cruz, the arch-conservative Texas senator whom the real estate mogul attacked relentlessly during the Republican primaries, dubbing him “Lyin’ Ted”.
Jason Miller, a transition communications adviser, told reporters Mr Trump and Mr Pence would be “reviewing a number of names” for cabinet positions, including “nontraditional names”.
But Mr Trump’s transition team has faced a string of setbacks as it tackles the daunting task of building an administration with the clout to support the 70-year-old political novice when he takes office.
The first shake-up came on November 11, when Mr Trump reshuffled the team, placing Mr Pence in charge. Then on November 15, the transition team’s head of national security, Mike Rogers, resigned in what was interpreted as a new sign of disarray.
Further reinforcing the impression of tensions, The New York Times reported on November 15 that Mr Trump had removed from the transition team a second top defence and foreign policy official, consultant Matthew Freedman.
On November 13, Mr Trump named Reince Priebus, a mainstream Republican operative who backed Mr Trump while chair of the Republican National Committee, as his White House chief of staff.
Mr Trump’s choice of Mr Priebus – announced at the same time as Mr Bannon – suggested a leader torn between a promise to shake up Washington and the need to build a cabinet with political experience and connections with Congress.
According to a top aide, Mr Giuliani, a member of Mr Trump’s inner circle, is a “serious” contender to become the next secretary of state.
At a recent forum sponsored by The Wall Street Journal, Mr Giuliani outlined his foreign policy vision, putting the fight against the Islamic State group atop his agenda, and arguing that Russia was not a military threat to America.
Mr Bolton, a neo-conservative hawk and former undersecretary of state, was also reported to be in the running for the top post.
He was a controversial choice for UN envoy in 2005, having once said if the UN headquarters lost 10 floors, “it wouldn’t make a bit of difference”.